What does it take to develop a lifelong love of reading and learning? While each person is different, reading great books whose characters, stories and lessons stick with you throughout life doesn’t hurt. Here are some great children’s classics that will hook your kids, and maybe even you, on reading for a lifetime.
Read these books with a preschooler or young child to hook them on reading early on.
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle: This book, along with its famous illustrations, tracks one caterpillar who takes a bite of just about everything.
- Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown: First published in 1947, this book’s simple story still makes the perfect bedtime tale.
- If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff: The constantly escalating favors this mouse asks for make for a fun read for your young child.
- The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper: While the true author of this book is disputed, the story it tells is classic and will stick with your child for a lifetime.
- Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey: The simple illustrations, and proud protection of the mother duck in this story will charm children.
- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin and John Archambault: Your child will want to read this story again and again because of the fun rhymes and bright illustrations.
- Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson: Help your children see just how far their imaginations can take them with the fun story told in this book.
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr.: With illustrations by Eric Carle, this book offers children simple rhymes and some unexpected animal creatures within its pages.
- The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister: Children who enjoy brightly illustrated stories will love this book’s sparkly pages, and you’ll like it’s lessons on appreciating inner beauty.
- Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney: How much do you love your children? This book will help you express that sentiment.
- The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise: This story tells of a young bunny who is followed by his mother, no matter what form he takes.
School age children will fall in love with these books.
- Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig: In this book, an unassuming donkey learns to be careful what he wishes for when he finds a magic pebble.
- Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans: Young readers will be unable to resist the cute and clever Parisian schoolgirl this story follows.
- The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton: This cute, whimsical story about a house that gets caught in the middle of urban development is a classic well-worth reading and rereading.
- Stellaluna by Janell Cannon: Children stand to learn some important lessons in this story about a bat raised by a family of birds.
- The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco: In this book, children will learn about the importance of keeping their history and culture close at hand.
- Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst: Anyone who has ever had a bad day will be able to relate to the the trials of Alexander in this book.
- The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf: One of the best-selling children’s books of all time, this book tells the story of Ferdinand, a bull who just wants to go his own way but finds himself in an unfortunate situation.
- Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus: In this book, kids will find the mouse equivalent of Sherlock Holmes and follow along as he tells how he solved a variety of cases.
- The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Euxpery: This fanciful tale takes children to a lonely planet where a solitary little prince travels to different worlds, each inhabited by a single adult.
- Owl Moon by Jane Yolen: Read this Caldecott Medal winner with your child, to hear the enchanting tale of a girl who goes owling with her father.
The beautiful pages of this book will keep kids engrossed.
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak: This classic tale, with illustrations by the author, will keep your child asking to read it again and again.
- The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base: The amazing illustrations in this book will have kids opening it again and again to search for things they didn’t see the first time around.
- The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg: The quietly beautiful illustrations and stories in this book will make this a holiday favorite for years to come.
- The Mitten by Jan Brett: This book tells the story of one lost mitten through beautiful and creative illustrations.
- Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg: Children will be delighted by the lions, tigers and bears that are released in this book.
- Olivia by Ian Falconer: The pig in this book is illustrated with surprising simplicity, but kids will find her incredibly endearing nonetheless.
- Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey: This book’s simple story of a boy collecting blueberries has been a classic for decades.
- The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Marianna Mayer, Illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft: The beautifully rich and detailed illustrations in this book turn a classic fairytale into a story that will stick in the minds of children for years.
- Strega Nona by Tomie De Paola: Here you’ll find whimsical illustrations that bring this folk tale to life.
- Anansi the Spider by Gerald McDermott: These bold and striking illustrations make this old Ashanti tale accessible and re-readable by children.
Poems and Rhymes
Help kids develop a love of poetry early on with these great books.
- There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly by Simms Taback: Children will enjoy the written form of this old folk song, especially with the fun illustrations it offers.
- Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein: This well-loved and respected book of silly poems for kids is a favorite of children and adults alike.
- A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson: Check out this book of poetry that has been a favorite of kids throughout the decades since its publication.
- The New Kid on the Block by Jack Prelutsky: Kids will love the nearly 100 poems in this book on all kinds of silly, quirky and funny topics.
- A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein: Many adults count this children’s classic among their favorite reads of all time.
- Every Time I Climb a Tree by David McCord: In the pages of this book, kids will find 25 short poems on topics like lost turtles, bananas and witches.
- The Sad Underwear and Other Complications by Judith Viorst: These poems will delight and surprise adults and children alike.
These series of books will keep kids reading books one after another.
- Babar by Jean de Brunhoff: Kids will love following this family of elephants as they travel and have adventures.
- Curious George by H.A. and Margaret Ray: The adventures of this monkey and the man in the yellow hat have engaged legions of children for generations.
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling: As the best-selling book series of all time, this story of a boy wizard is not to be missed.
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis: These books and their engaging characters will have kids wanting to read so they, too, can travel to Narnia.
- Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell: Young readers will love reading about the giant dog Clifford and the antics his size gets him into.
- Sideways Stories from the Wayside School by Louis Sachar: If your young reader loves silly, fun stories then they’ll appreciate this series of books about a seriously strange school.
- The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks: What kid hasn’t dreamed about their toys coming to life? In this story, a boy discovers a magic cabinet that will do just that.
- The Magic School Bus by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen: Through these books, kids can travel to the ocean floor, inside the human body, back in time and more, learning about science along the way.
- Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol: If your young reader loves a good mystery, these books are the perfect addition to their bookshelves.
- I Was a Sixth Grade Alien by Bruce Coville: In these silly books, a young man discovers something unsettling about his teacher.
Older kids will get hooked on these books.
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum: Even if they haven’t seen the movie, kids will be drawn in the by witches, wizards and whimsy of this classic book.
- Hatchet by Gary Paulsen: This classic survival story will keep kids on the edge of their seats.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl: Here, kids can indulge their fantasies of all the sweets they can eat, with a brilliantly written moral tale by Dahl.
- Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater: Ever wanted to keep a penguin in your freezer? This fun and cute story tells of a man who did just that.
- Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume: This first book in a series documents the life of Peter, Fudgie and Tootsie, three siblings who don’t always get along.
- Ramona Quimby by Beverly Cleary: Kids can read this harrowing tale of misadventures in the third grade in this Cleary classic.
- The BFG by Roald Dahl: In this story, most giants are brutes who eat children, except for the big friendly giant at the center of the story.
- Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell: Here, kids can read the story of a young girl who lives in isolation on a Pacific Island for eighteen years.
- The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner: In the first of these series of books, readers are introduced to an enterprising group of children who set up a home in a boxcar after the death of their parents.
- Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan: This classic tale addresses themes of abandonment, loss and love set in the midwest.
- Number the Stars by Lois Lowry: Students will get a personalized introduction to the horrors of the Holocaust through this take of Danish resistance to the Nazi extermination of the Jews.
- Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O’Brien: Children will get wrapped up in this tale of a mother mouse trying to get help for her sick son.
- Holes by Louis Sachar: Set at a juvenile detention camp, this book tells the tale of a boy who’s set to work digging holes in the desert for punishment, or as he discovers, for something else altogether.
- From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg: What kid doesn’t wonder what goes on at the museum at night? This book takes them there this mysterious and intriguing book.
Kids in middle school and beyond will find these books hard to put down.
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: Young readers can get an introduction to the world of Tolkien through this tale of the journeys of Bilbo Baggins.
- The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare: Here, kids can learn about the power of friendship to overcome prejudice.
- The Giver by Lois Lowry: In this book, humans are living in a utopian society, but when the protagonist discovers a startling secret, the world he knows begins to crumble around him.
- The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton: Since its publication in 1967, this book has been read in school classrooms across the nation.
- A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle: This fantasy classic addresses some serious philosophic issues.
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: Here, readers can get a interesting look at death from a new perspective.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: This classic’s poignant lessons about justice and doing the right thing will impact many a young reader.
- Eragon by Christopher Paolini: Lovers of fantasy will appreciate the tale of a boy and a dragon.
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: Those heading into their teen years can learn about what it means to grow into who they are from this book.
Kids and adults alike will love these literary classics.
- The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein: This book offers great lessons for children throughout their lives.
- Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss: Few kids can resist the appeal of this fun, rhyming classic.
- Corduroy by Don Freeman: The lonely and forgotten bear Corduroy is at the center of this simple and sweet tale for younger readers.
- The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams: Any child who has a toy they especially love will appreciate the poignant tale this book tells.v
- The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne: Kids will love hearing about the adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin in this book.
- The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter: Part of a larger series, kids will love the illustrations and simple stories in Potter’s famous books.
- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett: What child doesn’t like to dream of being in a castle with rooms and gardens galore to explore? They can live a bit of that out in this great classic book.
- Stuart Little by E.B. White: Kids will love the friendly and cute mouse at the center of this story.
- Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery: This classic tale of the red-haired Anne is perfect for older readers.
- Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder: Kids can learn what it was like to live back in pioneer days through the stories in this book.
Fun and Funny
Silliness is one great way to get kids to love books. These books have it in spades.
- Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems: This silly book will have kids in stitches as a pigeon tries to drive a bus.
- The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A. Wolf by John Scieszka: Kids can hear the funny and often ridiculous account of the three little pigs story from the point of view of the wolf.
- Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli: This folk story tells the story of a boy who can run fast, tie knots and play baseball like nobody else. Of course, it as a serious side as well, when racism comes into play.
- The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson: This holiday-themed favorite will undoubtedly produce a few laughs.
- The Teacher from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler: In this book, kids will see how rumors sometimes don’t represent reality as a young boy dreads the arrival of his new teacher.
- Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Betsy Lewin: The farmer at the center of this story quickly learns that cows typing means trouble.
- Good Work, Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish: Kids will learn the meaning of the word literal in this book, where the maid Amelia listens very carefully to what she’s told to do, but with silly, fun results.
- To Bathe a Boa by Imbior C. Kudra: Younger readers will enjoy this book about the difficulties involved in getting a boa to take a bath.
- How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell: This book brings kids fun and gross concoctions of grubs, worms and other creepy crawlies.
These books will tug at heartstrings and are hard to forget.
- Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White: Few adults forget the heartbreaking lessons this story teaches about life, love and growing up.
- Love You Forever by Robert Munsch: It’s hard to hold back tears when you read this book about caring for those who mean most to us.
- Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls: This book is much more than a story about a boy and his dogs, following the young Billy as his childhood innocence is replaced.
- Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes: Older readers will appreciate the sadness of this story, where a young man is given great genius, a gift and a curse in one.
- The Yearling by Marjorie K. Rawlings: Winner of a Pulitzer Prize, this book is full of fun, excitement and heart wrenchingly hard moments.
- Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor: Offer this book to the kids in your life to help them learn that sometimes moral issues aren’t as clear cut as they seem.
- Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt: This powerful book addresses the allure and sadness that come along with eternal life, among many other deeply moving topics.
- Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson: Children will be forced to confront both friendship and loss in this tale of two young children with vivid imaginations.
- Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo: Coming to terms with her abandonment, this young girl finds comfort in the form of a furry, and rambunctious dog.
- The Underneath by Kathi Appelt: This book covers material that is very heavy, but will teach kids about the importance of respecting all life.